Established in 1979 by the Carnegie Library Board of Trustees and re-organized as a stand-alone museum in 1999, the Delta Blues Museum is the state’s oldest music museum. Since its creation, the Delta Blues Museum has preserved, interpreted, and encouraged a deep interest in the blues story. The Delta Blues Museum had its 43rd anniversary on January 30th. Still, the celebration lasts throughout 2022 with new exhibits and more exciting events that highlight the new and preserve the Blues of the past.
Monday, August 8th, at 10 Am, the Museum will open its doors to a much-anticipated new permanent exhibit. The new exhibits were funded thanks to Sen. Robert Jackson, Rep. Orlando Paden, and other friends in the Mississippi state legislature who supported HB1730 & SB2969. Louisville-based Solid Light, Inc., and Delta Blues Museum Director Shelley Ritter have overseen the project from its inception, working to create a fuller educational story of the Blues history and its artists by utilizing modern exhibit materials and functionality.
“It is exciting to see design ideas come to fruition, to see artist renderings become a reality in our gallery,” Ritter offers, adding, “We hope visitors will be just as excited to see how we’re telling the story of the Blues in new ways.”
Solid Light project manager Jackson King says of this latest phase of their ongoing design work, “The exhibits will tell deeper stories of some of the most influential artists in Blues history and more. We at Solid Light are honored to be involved in telling the history and story of the living Blues in the place of its birth.”
Part of the new permanent installation at the Delta Blues Museum will feature the essential women that paved the way for the blues we know and love. In fact, without Mamie Smith, there may not have ever been a Blues genre to celebrate! Mamie Smith was the first black artist to record a blues song: 1920’s “Crazy Blues.” The recording opened the door for a new market known from the 1920s to the 1940s as “race records.” Mississippi Blues Legends: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, R. L. Burnside, Charley Patton, John Lee Hooker, Skip James, or Howlin’ Wolf, to name a few, came from that era! Without Mamie, Mississippi Delta blues music may have never been recorded. Can you imagine?
It’s hard to imagine a world without the Blues. That is why preserving its past, and present history is vitally important. A five-member board appointed by the Mayor and the Board of Commissioners of Clarksdale governs the Delta Blues Museum. Through funding from the City of Clarksdale, admissions, memberships, gift shop revenue, granting agencies, and donations, the Museum uses these public and private funds to carry out its mission of preserving and teaching the Blues.
The museum’s largest fundraiser is the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. The first festival was organized in 1988 by Jim O’Neal, founding editor of LIVING BLUES magazine and research director for Mississippi’s Blues Trail, to pay tribute to Mississippi’s famous blues heritage, including W. C Handy/ Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Charley Patton, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, and many more.
The 34th Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, which is free and open to the public, kicks off Aug. 11-14 in historic downtown Clarksdale with a VIP party called “Grits, Greens, and Barbecue,” originally designed to acquaint our Norwegian Sister City visitors with Southern Soul Food. The menu includes Abe’s famous barbecue, turnip greens, cornbread, and Grammy winner Charlie Musselwhite’s favorite cheese grits with Rotel tomatoes.
Plan your visit to the museum with the 34th annual Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in downtown Clarksdale and celebrate the sounds of the Festival performed live on the Delta Blues Museum stage. Museum tickets may be purchased by calling 662-627-6820 or visiting deltabluesmuseum.org for more information.
Photos courtesy Delta Blues Museum